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Figs on the branch
5 MIN 31 Dec
Last update: 28 Dec 2023

A Pruning Guide for the Fig Tree: When, Why & How?

Want to enjoy a great crop of figs each year? Then get to work, because pruning fig trees boosts growth and fruit! A step-by-step guide.

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Does your fig tree refuse to produce fruit? Maybe the fruits appear, but they rot before they ripen. Perhaps your tree has grown spindly and bare? It’s time for pruning fig trees, people!

Table of contents:
Show all
  • Why prune a fig tree?
  • When should I prune my fig tree?
  • When to avoid pruning your fig tree
  • Tools to use when pruning your fig tree
  • A step-by-step guide to pruning fig trees
  • Top tips for summer pruning
  • Protect your fig tree from frost
  • Common mistakes made when pruning fig trees
  • FAQs 

Fresh figs are sweet and delicious. And it’s pretty tricky to find them in your typical supermarket. So, pruning your fig tree is the surest way of getting a regular crop of these exotic delicacies.

Luckily, pruning a fig tree is relatively simple, and that’s what we will explore in this article. So, put your feet up and learn everything there is to know about pruning fig trees. 

Ready? Let’s get started.

Why prune a fig tree?

Three figs growing on the tree

The principal reason for pruning a fig tree is to stimulate growth. When you cut back spindly, weak branches, the tree focuses its energy on producing new shoots and branches, ultimately resulting in a higher yield of figs. 

Additionally, removing dead, weak, or damaged wood helps keep the tree healthy and robust, protecting it from pests and diseases. 

Finally, pruning your fig tree helps maintain a good shape. This is especially important for smaller gardens because fig trees can grow large, proliferating in the summer. 

When should I prune my fig tree?

The optimal time for pruning fig trees is in late autumn or early winter — November to January —  while the plant is dormant. Make sure to cut the branches back before new buds appear, giving the tree plenty of recovery time before the growing season begins again in the spring. 

A fig tree can live between 50 and 100 years in the right conditions, although some are believed to have lived for centuries! They react very well to pruning — you can even hard prune an overgrown tree, and its regrowth will be particularly vigorous. 

When to avoid pruning your fig tree

A lovely red ripening fig on the tree

Never prune your fig tree in spring after it has woken up from its winter dormancy. This is because the tree produces more sap, and the cut branches can “bleed”, which could cause the branches or leaves to sag. Or the tree could even die. 

Also, avoid pruning during frost or heavy rain — these conditions will prevent the cut wounds from healing, leaving the tree susceptible to disease. 

Tools to use when pruning your fig tree

A selection of pruning tools on a table

Like all trees, some branches can be tricky to remove. So, have clean tools at hand (and don’t forget to clean them after pruning to prevent spreading disease around your garden plants. 

We recommend the following tools:

  • Pruning shears — sharp pruning shears are helpful for thin branches and dead wood
  • Branch shears — for thicker branches
  • Pruning saw — for larger branches close to the main trunk
  • Garden gloves — these protect your hands from sharp branches and sticky sap (which can be allergenic)
  • Safety goggles — to protect your eyes, especially while sawing. 

A step-by-step guide to pruning fig trees

Figs growing on the tree.

Step #1: Inspect the tree

Try stepping away from the tree to assess its shape and size. Identify the dead, damaged, or diseased branches — these can affect the tree’s vitality, so should be your prime target. 

Step #2: Aim for an open branch system

Aim to create an open framework, removing branches that rub together or intersect — these prevent air from circulating around the foliage and can promote disease. 

Prune the oldest branches back to the base, leaving 2.5cm stubs, helping the tree channel its energy into producing new shoots and branches. 

However, retain shoots bearing fruitlets at the tip if possible. 

Step #3: Assess the shape

Step back again and assess the remaining shape after cutting the dead and diseased wood away. Now it’s time to even things out, cutting back for aesthetics. 

Cut thick stems of more than 3cm in diameter with a pruning saw, cutting on the pull stroke to prevent damaging the tree. 

Step #4: Pruning side branches

Cut the side branches to around 3 to 4 buds from the main branch to stimulate new growth.

Step #5: Aftercare

After pruning, it’s vital to water and feed the tree to help it recover from the stress of cutting. And don’t forget to cut back surrounding bushes and trees to ensure your fig tree has plenty of sunlight. 

The Garden Doctor:
Apply a pruning balm to help the wounds heal. It also makes the wounds less susceptible to infection.

Top tips for summer pruning

It’s best to avoid pruning during the summer. But if you must cut it back, choose a cloudy day to prevent the wounds from being exposed to the sun, which will dry them out.

Cut back minimally, saving the more significant pruning for the winter.  

Protect your fig tree from frost

Fig trees are Mediterranean in origin, so they don’t enjoy harsh British winters. In fact, over-exposure to frost and ice can inhibit fruit production the following year. 

So, cover your tree with a blanket or horticultural fleece when the temperature drops below zero. 

Common mistakes made when pruning fig trees

A selection of halved and whole ripe figs

Although pruning a fig is relatively straightforward, damaging the tree is possible. So, avoid these common mistakes:

  • Excessive pruning — over-pruning will hinder growth and fruiting. Cut back moderately.
  • Pruning at the wrong time — wait until winter for best results. Pruning too hard during the growing season can inhibit the tree’s growth.
  • Insufficient care after pruning — use pruning balm and give your tree plenty of water and fertiliser to help it rejuvenate after cutting back. 

FAQs 

When should you prune a fig tree?

Wait until the tree is dormant from November to January before pruning. Avoid pruning a fig tree during the growing season — it can inhibit growth and affect fruit production. 

How do you prune a fig tree?

Remove intersecting branches and dead or diseased wood. Create an open branch network to facilitate better air circulation, and prune side branches back to 3 to 4 buds from the main branch. 

Is a fig tree OK in the frost?

Fig trees originate from the Mediterranean, so they’re not great in freezing temperatures. In fact, over-exposure to frost can inhibit fruit production the following year. So, cover your fig tree with a horticultural fleece or blanket to help it survive a frosty snap. 

Any questions?

We hope our guide to pruning fig trees has provided all the info you need. Want to learn more on the art of pruning?

And if you have any questions, drop us an email, and we’ll reply as soon as possible. 

Happy gardening!

Louis Hooft
Founder & Lawn expert
Introducing Louis Hooft, the founder of MOOWY and your reliable expert. With a profound love for stunning lawns and extensive experience in garden maintenance, Louis is here to assist garden enthusiasts in achieving a greener and livelier outdoors than ever before. Count on Louis for invaluable tips, clever tricks, and top-notch products to make your garden flourish!
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